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Myanmar Coup

Singapore and ASEAN chair Brunei share 'deep concern' on Myanmar

After one-day trip, city-state's Balakrishnan to visit Malaysia and Indonesia next

Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, left, meets Brunei leader Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah on March 22. (Photo courtesy of Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

SINGAPORE -- Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan visited Brunei on Monday to meet with leader Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, as the violence in Myanmar overshadows the region.

Balakrishnan also held talks with his counterpart Dato Erywan Pehin Yusof, in which they agreed that the situation in Myanmar was of "deep concern" and urged all sides in Myanmar to seek a peaceful solution through constructive dialogue, according to Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Balakrishnan's trip came as some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations push for a special meeting on the Myanmar crisis. Last Friday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo called for immediate high-level talks, with Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin backing Widodo's suggestion the same day.

While the Singaporean statement did not say whether a regional summit was discussed in Brunei, the ministers did talk about "ASEAN's support for Myanmar's return to the path of national reconciliation, peace and stability."

Brunei is this year's ASEAN chair, making it a crucial player in any effort to find a regional answer to the crisis.

Balakrishnan was to return to Singapore the same day before heading to Malaysia on Tuesday, followed by a planned visit to Indonesia, according to the ministry.

During his stay in Malaysia from Tuesday to Wednesday, he will meet his counterpart Hishammuddin Hussein to "discuss issues of common interest to both countries in the context of bilateral cooperation, as well as regional and international issues," the Malaysian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Balakrishnan will also call on Prime Minister Muhyiddin, the ministry said.

The 10-member ASEAN bloc maintains a principle of non-interference in individual countries. But Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia all raised alarm about Myanmar soon after the Feb. 1 military coup.

An initial breakthrough toward a broader ASEAN response came on March 2, when members held a virtual foreign ministers meeting to discuss the matter. They "expressed our concern on the situation in Myanmar and called on all parties to refrain from instigating further violence, and for all sides to exercise utmost restraint as well as flexibility," according to the chair's statement issued afterward.

Nevertheless, international pressure has so far failed to stop the situation in Myanmar from deteriorating. As of Sunday, a total of 250 people had been confirmed killed by the junta, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an activist group.

This coming Saturday, the Myanmar junta plans to hold a military parade in Naypyitaw to mark Armed Forces Day, a potentially critical date. Analysts have warned that clashes between protesters and police could intensify as Saturday approaches, as the military will be eager to restore order beforehand.

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